In 1996, many declared the Atlanta Olympics as the Year of the Woman.
It was the first year of women’s soccer and softball and featured a dominant performance by the American women across the board.
Much of the success was due to Title IX, passed a generation before that provided that federally funded public institutions must provide equal funding for programs for men’s and women’s athletic programs.
And while we have gotten used to seeing our women succeed in most sports – especially team sports such as soccer, basketball and the dropped softball – the 1996 Year of the Woman was a mostly American thing. It was seen as a wake up to the rest of the world, who pushed to catch up with the Americans.
And finally, in 2012, the London Games have truly become the world’s Year of the Woman.
Every country has a female athlete participating at this year’s Olympics. And, the United States has more females participating than males.
Mind you, getting all these countries to OK sending female athletes came with some arm-twisting (and some rule bending that allowed them in despite not posting qualifying scores), but it was finally done.
It’s a nice story, and hopefully leads to some lasting changes in the parts of the world where women are second-class citizens – and in Saudi Arabia’s case, not even allowed to publicly participate in any kind of physical education.
But the likelihood of it happening is not likely. Too many traditions and beliefs to overcome.
One of Saudi Arabia’s two athletes, a judoka named Wojdan Shaherkani, had to deal with extra red tape to participate, as there were negotiations over her use of a head scarf, or hijab, during competition. A compromise was reached and the 16-year-old – trained at home by her judo coach father – competed, and lost in 82 seconds. The other Saudi female athlete, Sarah Attar, is a Californian who holds dual citizenship.
The lone Afghani female posted a personal best in the 100 meters Friday – finishing last in her qualifying heat. A runner from Qatar, one of the final holdouts with Saudi Arabia and Brunei, pulled up hurt in the 100 meters and did not finish.
But they were there. And that can give hope. Hope that some how, some way, the advances will come to allow females in some of these countries to be able to fully participate.
Because, as we’ve seen, the so-called fairer sex can be just as tough as the men that are sitting around making the rules.
CASE IN POINT: Anyone watching the U.S. women’s soccer team’s game against New Zealand (or any highlights of it) saw how hard these women play.
Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan, chasing down a loose ball, ran her knee square into the face of New Zealand goaltender Jenny Bindon. Yes, ouch.
Both got up and continued play – though Morgan was substituted out a few minutes later.
As a former goalie myself, I cringed seeing the replays. And flashed back to the times I got caught with flying elbows, a few boots to the legs and the soccer balls square in the face. Luckily, I never took a hit that was as vicious as that looked (that I remember, and I don’t remember ever being knocked out).
But if there’s anyone out there that continues to argue that women can’t play – well, watch this highlight and then tell me that.
AND ANOTHER: The U.S. women’s basketball team also won today, but the big play of the day came from the Australian game.
Liz Cambage, a 6-foot-8 center, took a pass, drove the lane and threw down a dunk in their game against Russia. It is believed to be the first female dunk in Olympic history.
Watching the U.S. game, they talked about the dunk, and brought up Lisa Leslie’s dunk for the Sparks, the first in the WNBA, and her rivalry with the Australians, and their star, Lauren Jackson.
As the game went on, the announcers talked about Jackson’s smack talk about Leslie’s dunk. The response from Leslie, as given by the announcers, was that it didn’t matter, because she was happy with her four golds.
OTHER DAY 7 NEWS: You couldn’t be on social media without noticing that a classic was going on in the tennis semifinals. Roger Federer topped Juan Martin del Potro in three sets in a time of 4 hours, 26 minutes. The final set ended with Federer scoring a 19-17 victory. Federer will face Great Britain’s Andy Murray in a rematch of the Wimbledon final for the gold medal.
• In the women’s tennis final Saturday, it will be a familiar gold medal match. Serena Williams will face Maria Sharapova. The winner will complete a career “Golden Slam,” having won all four major tournaments and an Olympic gold medal. Serena has had Maria’s number in the past, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can break through on the big stage.
• All’s not well on the beach for the Americans, as defending gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers lost in the round of 16 (the first knockout round) to a pair of upstarts from Italy. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings start their knockout round Saturday.
• It was a pretty big day at the pool for the Americans. The people we’re used to winning (Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin) won their last individual race. But it was 15-year-old Katie Ledecky who turned in the best performance of the day. The youngest American at the Olympics, she erased Janet Evans’ American record in the 800 meters to bring home gold.
UPCOMING: It’s your last chance to see swimmers in the pool, which means the last time we’re expecting to see Phelps in an Olympic race. Then there’s the big tennis final between Sharapova and Williams – as well as some of the doubles medal matches. Expect to see lots and lots and lots of track and field on NBC throughout the day (it’s Saturday, so expect more coverage on the main network). The women’s 100-meter final will be the crown jewel. It will be live at 1:55 p.m.
LOCAL STOP: Gymnasts, including the entire women's gold medal team, will be touring the country this fall as part a sponsored exhibition. There will be a stop at Ontario's Citizens Business Bank Arena on Sept. 9. Tickets run from $25 to $200, and are on sale now.